Monday, 5 September 2011

Live history

When I started studying archaeology, I and my fellow students we took it seriously. So seriously that the idea of a re-enactment was a frivolous one and something that as a professional you should not do. This feeling was partly enforced by a lack of societies re-enacting in Finland in the late 1980s and early 1990s and by certain uneasiness among the older generation who had experienced the real war on one hand and the mainly leftist younger archaeologists on the other who wanted to participate in peace marches and fairtrade instead of being involved in recreating battles.

My first personal encounter with a re-enactor did not make me feel any more positive about this activity. A so-called character in an archaeology students’ conference in Sweden delivered such gold nuggets as “it is a pity that one can have a real [Viking] battle [with real swords] only once” when loosely discussing experimental archaeology. The fact that the Vikings had swiftly passed Finland and sailed directly to Staraja Ladoga in the east made this kind of re-enactments more unlikely back home. This all changed with Dragons and Dungeons and role-play.

Suddenly, during the late 1990s a new generation of archaeology students took over. They were interested in postprocessual archaeology and had more personal/relaxed approach to archaeology. I got to know a female student who was an important figure in the contemporary medieval province of Finland in her spare time and had an alias of an upper-class maiden who participated in the annual feasts and other happenings.

This long prelude brings me to a real landscape of Bosworth, the scene of the famous battle during the Wars of the Roses. This is one of the numerous landscapes in England where famous battles are restaged and relived, though not too realistically with bodily harm. When there are no major re-enactments, there is a smaller campsite with soldiers, knights or archery during the weekends. The re-enactors can forget their everyday lives and act to be somebody else for a day or weekend. They can enliven distant times to their contemporaries and try to show how past battles were played out. These re-enactments are important in making history alive and the kind of events today’s heritage centre visitors expect. More seriously, they allow testing the dynamic interplay between a landscape and the flow of people and the stages of a battle.

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